New Kindle Update


If you downloaded my novel before February 27, 2015, now you can get the completely new, updated, and debugged version of  The Railroad Man on your Kindle by clicking the update button on the Manage Your Device app at  If you haven’t done this already, please do and give the new version a try.  You’ll be glad you did.  It is also available for update through Smashwards for B&N Nook, I-phone and all other E-reader formats simply by clicking on the Smashwords site and re-downloading the new version off their site.  The new version of the novel in soft cover book form is available on Create Space.

When Fiction Starts To Become Reality

So, reality just moved another step closer.  Read this post:

Watchdog: ‘Potential instruments of terrorism’ could be slipping into US on rail shipments

train railroad.jpg

Nov. 14, 2014: A train loaded with oil tank cars idles on a track in North Dakota.

Weapons of mass destruction and “potential instruments of terrorism” could be at risk of entering the country through cargo rail shipments, according to a new watchdog report.

The scathing inspector general investigation claims Customs and Border Protection agents working at ports of entry aren’t properly screening rail cargo coming in from Mexico and Canada. In turn, CBP cannot say for sure whether they made the right move in releasing various “high-risk” shipments into the U.S.

CBP policy requires port inspectors to use “large-scale non-intrusive inspection equipment” to scan shipments that its automated system flags as high risk. This process is supposed to let inspectors screen cargo for everything from drugs to weapons to other contraband.

The policy also requires that ports use radiation detection equipment when inspecting high-risk rail shipments.

The audit, however, revealed CBP agents, who operate within the Department of Homeland Security, failed to consistently do both on rail shipments entering the United States from Mexico and Canada.

Officers “may have failed to require examinations of rail shipments that were at higher risk to contain contraband, dangerous goods or weapons of mass destruction,” the report concluded. “CBP may also have failed to detect potential instruments of terrorism or dangerous materials from entering the United States.”

The IG report based its findings from a sample of 254 high-risk rail shipments from six ports that processed much of the overall fiscal 2012-2013 shipments. The report found that officers used incorrect targeting data criteria on 23 percent of the shipments tested.

The report also found officers did not always use the required radiation detection equipment to examine the shipments, missing the mark 72 percent of the time in the IG test.

Another glaring problem is that CBP officers did not record the results of their rail shipment checks properly. One reason is that some of the officers were not trained to use the tracking system called CERTS.

Using CERTS at rail ports in the country was mandated on April 13, 2011. The report said inspectors found evidence that at some sites, employees conducted physical exams on the cargo but failed to document the findings.

Government investigators made six recommendations to DHS to fix the problems, which include making sure officers are using the mandatory targeting system for “scoring” rail shipments, reiterating to supervisors their responsibility to make sure officers document their finds accurately and providing additional training on using the automated targeting system.

The agency said it would fix the problems highlighted in the inspector general report and work to update its guidance and patch up agent training gaps.

Additionally, the department says it’s drafting “a current comprehensive National Cargo Targeting Policy that will develop system enhancements to CERTS that will enable CERTS to generate reports to identify high risk shipments not in compliance with policy.”

The department estimates the new policy will be completed by June 30 of this year.

This details the failings of our border security in monitoring things like contraband and WMD’s from getting into our country hidden aboard rail cars.  Not to spoil the plot of my novel, but that pretty much is the central theme of my novel.  So now we can call it, “Timely.”  That sounds nice.

Writing And Model Railroading

What do you think of when you hear the word, “Art?”  Do you think of a painter working at an easel dabbing away with his oil paints on his latest creation?  Do you think of a singer, belting out her newest tune on stage, or over your radio?  Do you think of a great film you loved over the years that was so well done it’s an instant classic.  How about just the guy down the street named Art? (Had to through that bad joke in!)  Whatever comes to mind, you’d be right.  Art takes so many different forms.  Even writing is an art form, be it novels, children’s books, short stories or poems.  There’s also performance art, where performers carry out some kind of dance-like performance in public.

How about something called model railroading?  Do you consider it an art form?  Well, despite what some less-informed out there might call playing with trains, it is.  And a beautiful one if done properly.  Take a look at this picture:


This is a shot of a famous model railroad called the Virginia And Ohio.  It is the creation of Mr. Allen McClelland, one of the most prolific model railroaders in the the hobby.  Tell me this is not a work of art.

The thing about a model railroad is, even when it gets to this level of completion, it still isn’t finished.  It never is! There’s always something to improve, redo, replace.  It’s a never-ending campaign of improvement.

So where am I going with this post?  Well, as some of you know, my novel, The Railroad Man, has been out now for a little over a year.  In that time, I have rewritten and republished it several times, much to my chagrin.  What I found was, just like model railroading, even a novel never seems to be finished, even when it is.  I have continually updated and upgraded the story since I put it out there.  I want to say that will stop, but I can’t.  I want to say that I am finished with the story and will now leave it behind and move forward, but doing so would be very disingenuous to you guys.  But I’m going to try very hard to leave this latest update of my novel as my last.

The parallels of writing and model railroading also bled through into the novel.  How?  Well the railroad I set my story against, the Midland Railroad Company, exists only as a figment of my imagination.  But I made great pains to bring that railroad to life, if only through my words.  Allen McClelland did the same thing.  His railroad, The Virginia And Ohio, also does not exist.  But most would be hard pressed to determine that the V&O was not a depiction of an actual railroad.

Model railroading follows a number of schools of thought.  There are those where an individual puts down a loop of track and runs whatever equipment they want to through a landscape that does not depict any particular town or region.  These are whimsical “freelanced” railroads, where the equipment could be a collection of trains from numerous actual railroads and spread over different time frames with no care given to the geographic or chronological relationship of one train to the other.  It’s just a free-for-all, “If it runs on tracks, I’ll run it.”

On the other end of the spectrum are your prototype modelers.  These are the sticklers, the guys that will operate only what a certain railroad operated through a defined geographical part of that particular railroad during a strict time period, in some cases a single day!  These guys are real craftsmen.  They scratch build structures to depict actual structures from the actual towns a railroad ran through at the time frame they are modeling.  That particular structure could have been knocked down decades ago, but it’s recreated on their layout as faithfully as they can do it.  Layouts like this are true works of art.  I count myself closer to this end of the spectrum on my own layout, which follows the Santa Fe Railway over Raton Pass, New Mexico in the 1952-56 era.  Even so, there are many anachronisms on my layout and some chronological mismatches as well.  And none of my structure, save for the few that are offered as kits, will be scaled down replicas of what was actually in Raton during that time frame.  There will be “structures” there that will be in the approximate location of the actual ones that were there, but I simply don’t have the time, patience or skill level to scratch build like that.

This leads me to what many consider the middle ground between these two schools of thought.  Like I said, my own model railroad falls to the left of the absolute prototype modeler group and towards this middle ground which is called Prototype Freelancing.  With Prototype Freelancing, you can “bend the rules” a bit, or twist them until they almost break.  It just depends on how much like the real world you want your modeling predilections to be.  I chose to model an actual railroad, running only the actual equipment they ran during the time frame I chose, but with a slight mix of trains that ran during what can be best described as a transitional era on the actual Santa Fe railway.  The actual railroad experienced a very drastic make-over between 1952 and 1956, and I chose to mix it all together on a layout that captures the “flavor” of the actual locale but doesn’t copy every structure down to the last most minute detail.  Allen McClelland went a step further into the middle ground.  He created his own railroad prototype to follow, then created an entire history behind it to justify its existence and make it seem like his railroad was actually built and operating in the real world.  He even went so far as to draw out his railroad on USGS Topographical Survey maps to insure that even its route was plausible.  (Nothing can ruin a model railroaders day more than finding out the line you drew on a map for your fictional railroad runs smack dab into an impenetrable mountain range, making your railroad implausible.)

I had been a fan of the Santa Fe Railway for many decades, ever since I was a boy.  It was a legendary railroad that ran some of the greatest trains ever to grace the rails of this country.  It even had an Academy Award-Winning song (On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe).  What wasn’t there to like?  Well the fact that the model railroad equipment available at the time wasn’t conducive to modeling a particular railroad all that well.  You had to settle for what was out there, even though the equipment wasn’t quite right for the railroad you were modeling.  As for locomotives, sure you could “super detail” them, festoon them with dozens of detail after market parts from the hobby shop to make them look closer to the locomotive used by your favorite railroad.  But even so, after spending sometimes more money on parts than the basic model was worth, you wound up with a locomotive that still was only about 85% correct.  I didn’t like this, and neither did Allen McClelland and others who chose the prototype freelance way.  They wanted to have their own railroad with equipment that would be 100% correct because, well, their railroad didn’t really exist, so what was commercially available at the time would be just right for your own railroad.

With this, I moved away from doing the Santa Fe and toward creating a model railroad like the V&O, one that never existed, but could have.  I bought reams of topo maps and began marking out a railroad that would be based on a particular favorite of mine, the New York, Susquehanna and Western.  (I think by now you’re beginning to see where this is all heading!)  I wanted to put the NYSW into a “what if” situation, where its history becomes altered by the changing of a single event, in this case, that the NYSW was never taken over by the Erie in 1898, thus stunting its growth.  I then searched for ways to expand it.  To make this long story a little shorter, what I wound up with was a railroad that extended west from the NYSW’s end point of Kingston, Pa (Just outside of Wilkes-Barre) through Williamsport and on to a connection with a railroad that failed called the Buffalo and Susquehanna, which gave me a railroad that ran northwestward to Buffalo, NY with an important secondary main that ran due west to a connection with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (Yes, the same B&O from the Monopoly board) at Punxsutawney, Pa.  This created a railroad that was very plausible, as the guys on Mythbusters would say.  And it would have certainly been strong enough to weather the bankruptcy storms of the 1970’s.

In the intervening years, I gave up on trying to create a prototype freelanced model railroad based on my creation. Many factors contributed to this, the chief one being the revolutionary changes in model railroad equipment where prototype specific equipment is now the norm.  I returned “Home” so to say to the Santa Fe, and my prototype freelanced NYSW was packed away in another box right next to the one that contained the earlier proto-manuscript for this novel, until I began to write this “new” version of my story.  And then, it hit me.  Why not use the research I did to create my prototype freelanced model railroad to create the fictional Midland Railroad in my novel, and that as how it came to be.  It is a model railroad that exists in the art form of words, not three-dimensions.  I had cut it down originally to end back at Scranton and Wilkes-Barre in order to simplify its explanation in the novel, but after the recent take-over of the D&H by the Norfolk Southern, I re-extended my railroad out to what I had originally intended for the Midland to look like.  And that’s what prompted me to do the last update.

So, now you see just how model railroading influenced my novel.  It was a crazy, long ride that continues to this very day.  Buy a copy at Kindle Direct, Smashwords, or in book form at Create Space and see for yourselves.  I think you’ll like my little “Prototype Freelanced” Midland Railroad.  It is, after all, a work of art!  Until next time.

Locales In The Railroad Man, Part 2

Picking up after I was so rudely cut off, the next stop on the tour is the east portal of the tunnel, in Edgewater, NJ:


Much nicer with the cut stone portal.

The last stop on the tour is the Ramapo River bridge in Oakland, the locale of one of the most dramatic scenes in the novel:

Ramapo River Bridge

Very photogenic, isn’t it?

Well, that concludes the tour.  So now you have an idea as to what many of the locales in my novel look like.  As I said, they actually exist, or did at one time.  I recreated the ones that have been lost to the best of my ability.  I believe I’ve done them justice.  There are many, many more locales in the story that I simply don’t have the time or space to show you.  Guess you’ll all have to wait for the movie!  On a parting note, here’s kind of what Emily-D looks like on the wall of The Cottage.  She is a little bit different than this, but you get the idea:


My thanks to those who published the images used in these last 2 blogs on the net.  Until next time!

Locales In The Railroad Man

Like I said in my previous post, I’m going to give you a picture tour of some of the locales on the Midland Railroad in my novel.  ALL of the locales in my story either exist or did exist at one time, except for Greenfield Yard, which is entirely fictional, but based on the Black Tom area of Jersey City.  There’s a story about that place as well that kind of has a linkage to my novel.  More on that later.

As we know, Ferry Yard is located on the edge of the Meadowlands in Ridgefield, New Jersey.  It is with some small exception, a near clone of NYSW’s Little Ferry Yard, also actually located in Ridgefield.  Ferry Yard is reached by crossing a drawbridge over the Overpeck Creek.  This point sees a lot of action in the novel, and it actually exists as the entrance to Little Ferry Yard.  Here’s a photo of the real Drawbridge, taken from the Bergen Turnpike crossing:


It does kind of look like a gateway, doesn’t it?  Here’s a picture taken from the creek:


Once across the bridge, the next area of interest was about a half mile down the track.  It’s the roundhouse at Ferry Yard, and the yard office called The Cottage.  These also did exist on the Susie-Q and again, with small exception, are the basis for the locales in the novel.  Here’s a photo of The Cottage.  It’s not the best, but it’s all I have right now:

The Cottage

Here’s a view of its backside taken from the turntable area behind the roundhouse:


It’s the little gray building to the lower left of the photo.  Next is the turntable and the roundhouse itself:

Little Ferry Roundhouse

The shed to the right is Track 11, the “New” Stall, built in the 1940’s.  Here’s a few more photos of the roundhouse area:


Here’s a very bad overview of the entire facility taken from the Turnpike.  If you click on it, it will blow up nicely for you:


The next area of interest is the fuel facility, with the sand tower dominating the scene:NYSW1804LittleFerryNJ10-1974

That shed in the foreground plays a minute but memorable role in Chapter 6.

The sad thing is that the roundhouse, fuel facilities and The Cottage have all been destroyed, torn down in 1992 to make way for an expanded intermodal yard.  Only the turntable remains.  The sand tower was also salvaged and moved to a new engine servicing facility located just to the north of the famed Route 46 bridge, which is eluded to several times in the story.  Sorry, no picture of that bridge here, but you can see it on Google maps satellite feed.

The next big scene is at the old Edgewater tunnel.  Here’s the west “portal”:


Does kind of look like the Gateway to Hell, doesn’t it?  Here’s more pictures of the tunnel interior.  I must say, even I was impressed when I found these:


This last one gives real credence to an important scene in my novel.

Out of space.  Part 2 to follow.


Your Host, The Midland Railroad

Been a while since I last posted.  It’s been a little crazy these days.  Changed schedules at work, which leaves me with no real time to do many of the things I used to during the week, which pushes everything to the weekends, which then leads to having little extra time to do things like writing a blog.  But I digress.

As many of you know, my novel, The Railroad Man, takes place during one hectic night on a small but busy New Jersey based freight railroad called the Midland Railroad Company.  For most of you, that’s the end of that.  But some of you might be saying to yourselves, “These places sound familiar to me,” while others are saying, “I know exactly where that place is!”  You are all right.  Because the first rule of writing is, “Write what you know about,” and since I know about a particular small, New Jersey based railroad with a legendary background that far exceeds its diminutive size, I chose it as the basis for my fictional Midland Railroad Company.  That railroad was the one responsible for giving me my interest in trains and railroading at an early age as its main line ran past my house about a half-block away.  It was, and still is, the New York, Susquehanna and Western.  Most people around here gave it the nickname Susie-Q, obviously short for Susquehanna.  Here’s the famous image of her that was designed in the 1960’s:


Kind of reminds you of that cartoon decal of Emily-D, the Midland Railroad’s mascot in my novel, doesn’t she?  (Heh,heh,heh!)

Like I said in my previous post, you might notice that most of the examples of locomotives I gave are from the Susquehanna, and that was not by accident.  So as the late, great Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you know the rest of the story,” or at least you will know by the time you reach the end of this blog.

The NYSW was a small railroad that started at nearly the dawn of railroading in this country.  It’s earliest corporate ancestors traced back to about 1840.  It’s purpose was simple:  To transport Anthracite coal from Pennsylvania to the factories in Paterson, New Jersey, which until that time received that essential fuel via the very slow and seasonal Morris Canal.  After a diversionary period where the line was essentially duped into building a route to Middletown, New York, they redirected their efforts to build a line through the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania to reach the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area and the rich Anthracite mines that dotted the region.   Soon after, they built a branch line over to Edgewater, New Jersey (Then known as Undercliff) which gave them complete control of the transport process for the coal from mine to tidewater.  The route map looked like this at its greatest extent, and is the mirror image of the Midland Railroad’s map as detailed in my story save for the shortening of the branch to Middletown back to Sussex:


The line became wildly successful.  However, the Susquehanna soon became a victim of its own success.  It was bought up by the much larger Erie Railroad, and its even more humongous financial backers on Wall Street (Chief among them being J.P. Morgan).  Seems the little upstart Susquehanna upset the rates being charged for the delivery of coal to New York, forcing the companies like the Erie to lower their rates in response, which meant lower profits for them and the Wall Street robber barons who controlled them.  And this couldn’t be allowed to go on.  After the Susquehanna was taken over, the rate situation for coal restabilized (Rose back to their old levels) and the Eire began the systematic destruction of the smaller Susquehanna’s lines by diverting the coal business to their paralleling branch line and away from the Susquehanna.  In the end, the Susquehanna’s lines were left with almost no traffic, and when the line was pulled away from the Erie’s control during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, there was little coal traffic left to maintain the over sixty miles of trackage in Pennsylvania.  And so the Susquehanna abandoned everything west of the Delaware River.

Over the next few decades, a large number of heavy industries moved in to Edgewater and the line remade itself into a merchandise carrier, but that couldn’t stem the tide of industries closing down and moving out of New Jersey as well as the diversion of traffic to trucks on the then new interstate highway system.  Connections were also lost and the Susquehanna had no choice but to cut its line further and further back until it only reached as far west as Butler, New Jersey.  Then came bankruptcy and what could have been the end of the line.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the scrap yard.  The line was sold to a railfan entrepreneur named Walter Rich who saw the line as having potential for something big.  Now, like Mr. Rich or hate him, he was the right person at the right time to come and save a near-floundering railroad like the Susie-Q.  At that time (1980) the northeast railroad scene was in the troughs of a great bankruptcy wave, which led the government to take the bankrupt companies and combine them into the monstrosity know as Conrail.  This left the New York metro area with just a single rail carrier to serve its industries, and its ports.  The Susquehanna was left out of this mix.  It was viewed as inconsequential, and would probably be swept up into Conrail’s dustpan sooner or later.  What no one counted on was that the Susquehanna had a large, very underutilized yard in Little Ferry, New Jersey. (Actually Ridgefield, but the station was called Little Ferry for the town just across the Hackensack River.  Why?  I don’t really know!)  The yard was close to the NJ Turnpike, and just minutes from Port Newark.  And that’s where Sealand comes into the story.  They were looking for a container terminal for their exclusive use to handle their then new transcontinental stack trains.  Conrail would only give them a portion of their existing terminals, because after taking over five bankrupt railroads, each with an underutilized terminal or terminals in the area, they sold most of those properties off, and thus had no additional space to grow.  But the Susquehanna did.  And armed with a rebuilt main line and several strategic acquisitions of rail lines that Conrail had deemed surplus and was going to abandon unless someone purchased them, the Susquehanna had cobbled a route to Binghamton, New York and a connection with a railroad called the Delaware and Hudson, itself a line that was left out of the Conrail mix.  The D&H was viewed as being the main competition for Conrail, being granted trackage rights to Buffalo, New York and Washington, D.C., but it was a joke.  There was no way it could compete with Conrail for anything like the valuable transcontinental intermodal business.  They didn’t have any terminals in New Jersey.  Until now!  The Susquehanna now gave them access to the largest market in the U.S., to a terminal that was completely independent of Conrail.  And with the connections in Buffalo to the Chessie System (CSX’s immediate predecessor) and Norfolk and Western (NS’s immediate predecessor) there was now a new through route for container traffic to head east off the big western carriers at Chicago to New York.  And the Susquehanna entered a new phase of prosperity.

For 15 years, the Susquehanna fielded as many as 4 big intermodal trains every day as well as a big general freight.  But all good things must come to an end.  On June 1, 1999, CSX and NS acquired Conrail and split it between themselves.  At that point, neither mega-carrier needed the Susquehanna or the D&H for that matter to reach New York.  They now had their own lines.

Today, the Susquehanna soldiers on, running 1 general freight train a day, eastbound one day, westbound the next, as well as switching the local industries on their line.  Occasionally, CSX will route a bypass train their way when they have to, but that’s about it.  Will old Susie-Q survive?  I’d like to think so.  It has for so many years now, longer than most of her much larger, more profitable contemporaries did, railroads with legendary names like Pennsylvania, and New York Central; Erie and Delaware, Lackawanna and Western; Lehigh Valley, Central Railroad of New Jersey, and Reading.  Even New York, New Haven and Hartford.   And through all the turmoil, old Susie-Q has always found some way to survive.  Here’s hoping there’s something left in her tanks!  Next time, I’ll bring you on a picture tour of some of the locales in my novel that are located on the Susie-Q.